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Meeting Anthony in Marjah

Courtesy of Atia Abawi

Lance Corporal Anthony DiLisio preparing a mortar round in Afghanistan in Feb., 2010.

By NBC News' Atia Abawi 

I met Anthony on February 13th, 2010.

Under a dark sky that morning my news crew air assaulted into the battle of Marjah with the 1st Battalion 6th Marines Alpha Company.

It was a horrific several hours of dodging bullets and finding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but the Marines were in good spirits after securing their first position within the city.

But the battle raged on.  We started to film the mortar men as they adjusted their coordinates and fired away.

Among them was a tall and tan young man following orders while under attack – he didn’t even flinch.  He seemed fearless and almost mechanical at his job.

From the start most of the Marines were a bit suspicious of the three journalists joining them.  To make matters more uncomfortable, two of us were female.  But they got over these things fast – with Anthony’s help. 

On day two, I went to where the mortar team was situated because we heard that was where we could find the Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) packs. I sat alone picking out my food of choice as curious eyes tried to figure me out.

“That’s gonna expand in your stomach and it’s loaded with calories,” the tan and tall Marine said matter-of-factly as he was squatting near a box of mortar rounds.  “And you’ll get really constipated.”

Appetizing. 

That’s when Anthony came over to sit next to me. 

He gave me advice on what in my food kit would make me fat, counsel I welcomed.

“You guys got me in trouble with my family,” he said in a subdued tone.

Anthony explained that his officer let him use the satellite phone they had to check-in and let their families know they were okay.  He said the video we sent kept running over and over again on the news and his family was upset that he wasn’t wearing his flak jacket and helmet.

Knowing full well what it’s like to have a worried family I guiltily asked what his response was.

“I just said I had to go and that someone else needed the SAT phone,” he said with a slight grin.

That was the start of a long conversation about family. 

His family was first generation Italian – they had had their ups and downs.  He spoke with affection and admiration about them, especially his siblings.

He seemed like an old soul for a 19-year-old.  And I was impressed that this young man went out of his way to make me feel at ease.

After my chat with Anthony I seemed more harmless to the guys.  And more and more of them opened up and began trusting us journalists. 

In those weeks I met an amazing group of men and boys - people with families and loved ones who missed them dearly and who they missed just as much.

Facebook Connection
After I left Marjah I received messages from the family members of some of those Marines - messages that warmed my heart. 

And as I promised them, I posted pictures of that Marjah trip on Facebook. 

One of the pictures was of Anthony preparing a mortar round.  It was sweet seeing proud messages from his girlfriend Rachel and Aunt Micki.

But it was that same photo posting where I learned of Anthony’s death a few months later. 

In June 2010, I wondered how the guys were doing.  I knew they would be going home soon and knew they’d be excited.

I decided to flip through my Facebook photos again to see if there were any new comments on them.  That’s when I saw the letters that hit so hard: RIP.

I sat at my desk and the tears started flowing uncontrollably.

Facebook

A Facebook tribute to Lance Corporal Anthony DiLisio.

I was able to get in touch with Anthony’s girlfriend Rachel and learned that he volunteered to go on a routine patrol when he was shot in the head.

When you live in a war zone long enough, you start to feel callous.  But Anthony was a brother, a friend, a partner, a son and a Marine.  And it’s when you think of the chain of lives that each person has touched, the loved ones that held them dear, that you feel the full weight of each loss.

In memory of Lance Corporal Anthony DiLisio, 20-years-old, who died a year ago today.